California has a rich Catholic history dating back to the 1600s, and today the state has many beautiful sacred sites where Catholics would enjoy visiting.
We had an incredibly hard time narrowing down the list to these sites, so don’t be too bummed if your favorite Catholic site in California isn’t on here. Let us know what you’d add to the list in the comments!
If you’re heading to California on a trip, you live in California, or you are curious about The Golden State’s Catholic history, check out these 5 sacred sites not to miss in California.
The California Missions Trail
It feels like a side-step to list all 21 missions as one item, but we couldn’t resist including them all since their history is so incredible.
The California Missions Trail stretches from San Diego to Sonoma. These 21 historic sites were built from 1769 to 1823, several of them founded by St. Junipero Serra. Only 8 of the missions are still active Catholic parishes, but all are worth visiting.
The missions include San Diego de Alcala, San Luis Rey de Francia, San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel Arcangel, San Buenaventura, San Fernando Rey de Espana, Santa Barbara, Santa Ines, La Purisima Conception, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Miguel Arcangel, San Antonia de Padua, Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, San Juan Bautista, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara de Asis, San Jose, San Francisco de Asis Mission Dolores, San Rafael Arcangel and San Francisco Solano.
We especially recommend visiting the Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel, where St. Junipero Serra is buried; and the Royal Presidio Chapel in Monterey, which is the oldest continuously operating parish in the state.
St. Michael’s Abbey, Silverado
The Norbertine Fathers have served California for decades, but their new abbey in Silverado was just completed in 2021.
The best day to visit is on the feast of St. Michael, the abbey’s patron, when the abbey was designed in such a way that the sun from its rose window illuminates the high altar. According to their website:
Designed by architect Jean Louis Pagès, the abbey church tells a triumphant story with color and light. Each year, on Michaelmas, the rays of the sun from the rose window set on the high altar during vespers. This powerful moment literally illuminates the profound mystery we encounter in each Mass—the victory of light over darkness, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the union of heaven and earth.
Our Lady of Peace Church and Shrine, Santa Clara
Prominent statues of holy images provide a beautiful witness to the world of love and devotion. At this church, you can visit and pray at a 32-foot statue of Our Lady and take photos to remember the experience. With lots of available options for Mass, Confession, and Adoration, there are many opportunities for prayer while you visit.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles
A piece St. Juan Diego’s tilma, believed to be the only one in the United States, is enshrined here. The cathedral is also home to the tomb of St. Vibiana, a 3rd-century Italian saint whose feast day is September 1.
The massive cathedral also has a display of papal relics and 25 fresco-like tapestries depicting 135 saints and blesseds, as well as several side chapels and many pieces of art.
Los Angeles is, of course, known as the home of movie stars, but a visit to the city’s cathedral will make your visit truly heavenly!
National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, San Francisco
St. Francis Parish, now the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, existed even before the city of San Francisco and the statehood of California.
With extensive murals hand painted by Italian artists and stained glass windows throughout the shrine, this site is a feast for the eyes as well as the soul. Devotees of St. Francis will love seeing the shrine’s scale replica of St. Francis’ Porziuncola in Assisi, Italy.
We hope one of these sites will be part of your itinerary on your next visit to California, or can be a meaningful short trip if you live in the state. What other sites would you add?
Boulder Creek, California
This small, picturesque town is a bit of a trek, so consider it a visit for explorers. Located in the Santa Clara Mountains, it was the home of Servant of God Cora Louise Evans in the last years of her life. A convert from Mormonism, a housewife, and hidden mystic, Cora Evans claimed to have received private visits from Jesus and Mary. She also manifested the stigmata on her hands. Many Mormons were brought to the Catholic faith through her example. The Vatican is currently reviewing her cause for canonization.
Enjoy the local scenery, visit the local Catholic parish of St. Michael, then take a hike in the nearby Big Basins Redwood State Park. There was a major fire in the park in 2020, but the forest is regrowing and will remind you that God is always at work renewing his creation.